Friday, May 09, 2014

The Retreat

Where to even begin??
It's funny when you have expectations, but you have no idea what they are. You can't identify specifics or a way that you thought something was going to be or what it was going to look like. All you know it's that your ill defined nebulous expectations were not met.

I did a yoga retreat in Pokhara, Nepal. It sounds exciting - no? I've never done anything like this before, so certainly my expectations weren't formed by prior related experiences. I will start by saying the residence portion was better than any hut I stayed in while trekking (which is saying very little). It had electrical outlets, and lights, and walls that don't have gaping holes to the outside. These are all good things.

As soon as I got here the owner guy told me we are all one big family and I felt myself cringe. Why is the idea of some hippy-esque family so anxiety producing? Maybe I don't want to be part of one giant family with a bunch of youngsters looking to find themselves and thinking something called a "retreat" is the way to do it. Maybe I just want to keep to myself and not feel obligated to talk to each of my new family members. Why is there so much pressure to be social and friendly? What if I want to keep to myself? What if I think everyone is annoying?

I walked into my room the first night, that I was supposedly sharing with one other person to find three beds and two other people already there. Not a huge deal, but why not just say that you're in a room with three people? Why advertise two people per room? And apparently I lucked out because other rooms have four beds squished in. I happen to have two of the greatest roommates ever, so that's made it palatable. The attached bath? A squat toilet. There's just no escaping the squat toilet apparently. I thought I left those mysterious holes behind with trekking and roadside bus stops. Apparently not!

Immediately after my arrival it was chanting time. There are three meditation sessions per day, *in addition* to the chanting session, which is really singing. It sounded to me exactly like a drum circle in Golden Gate park, so I chose to stay in the room instead - which is right next door to the studio room so it sounded like I was in there anyway. It turns out that was the best timeslot of the day to take a nap.

No hot water in the entire establishment. After a really long day of yoga and meditation I'm going to go out on a limb and say a hot shower would be nice. Or even a warm one. Sigh.

I think I also have expectations around cleanliness which are laughable as it turns out. The yoga mats have not been washed in... a month? Two? Ever? Not exaggerating. And we bring them outside each day for morning outdoor yoga! Then we put them back in the yoga room damp with many little insect visitors and use them again a couple of hours later. The yoga room does not smell good and has not ever been vacuumed (it's carpeted) but I will say you get used to the smell pretty quickly.

Our room has also not been cleaned anytime recently. Certainly not in the five days I was there, nor the four days before that I have on good authority. No bathroom cleaning, no floor cleaning. Large mats of hair and who knows what else float around the floor. It's got one of those bright green faux grass colored low-knap outdoor carpets which hides everything quite well, thankfully. Except the enormous spider. It was bigger than a daddy long legs, with FAT legs and a big hourglass body. It was gross. I generally have no aversion to spiders and try to get them into a plastic container to throw back outside when I have them at home, but this was a whole different level of spider. I squealed like a school girl and did an icky spider dance. Then I tried to shoe it outside which didn't come close to working. I had imagined kind of guiding it across the room and out the door. It had other plans. It was FAST and ran right under another bed across the room. So, I left it there. Then it turned up later in the bathroom stranded by my cold psuedo shower attempt, so I went and asked the manager if he wouldn't mind taking it out. Thankfully they did not mind.

One of the more difficult aspects for me was the eating - the food itself was actually pretty good, but we were woken at 5:30, and had over an hour each of yoga and meditation and hiking amongst other activities before we were able to eat breakfast at 10:30. FIVE hours of focused awake time before breakfast?! I was ravenous by the time breakfast rolled around - I nearly gnawed my arm off a time or two. And yes, for those of you who know me well, you probably thought 5:30 was a typo above, but no, it was not. I got up at 5:30 am for 14 days straight on my trek and then 5 days for this yoga retreat! It is possible hell is freezing over.

While the food was good, the treatment of the food was not nearly as careful as it should have been. An unusually high number of people got bacterial stomach bugs there, they washed the dishes and raw fruits and veggies with the normal water, which is contaminated for western guts, so I stayed away from anything that wasn't cooked, compulsively dried wet utensils I was given, etc. I felt very lucky to leave without having gotten a stomach bug. My roommate was not so fortunate.

The other daily activity I abstained from? Group nasal cleansing. I mean, I have three neti pots (mostly because I have to buy new ones on the way to Burning Man when I forget mine) and have no issue with using them, but shared *communal* neti pots which aren't sterilized? and are filled with regular Nepali bacteria-full water? No. Thank. You. You've got to be kidding. I am surprised no one has come down with that brain eating amoeba yet.

The yoga was decent - I like my teacher at home much better, but this was fine. There wasn't much (any) emphasis on proper position and they seem to encourage people to push to get into complicated positions which fuels the fire of the young men whose egos are easily prodded. But, I just ignore their fighting and groaning and did what I could. No blocks or modifications or anything so I made my own sometimes.

The meditation was pretty tough for me. We did a number of techniques that I really enjoyed that involved sound - separating the three parts of the aum aka om and meditating on each for a while, or sight - candlelight meditation was also very good. The silent meditation is tough and felt pretty torturous after the first 10 minutes, as did maintaining the cross-legged posture for an hour. I would be having third party conversations with myself about the conversations I was having and it would spiral out from there.

All in all I am definitely glad I went - I became a lot more flexible, and learned some good meditation techniques, but I cannot even tell you how happy I was to leave and not have to be ruled from 5:30am - 9:00pm with a bell ringing my every next activity. I bee-lined to the store in Pokhara when I left and ran into two other folks who had left the day before who had armloads of candy and cookies. HA! You get to feeling pretty deprived after a while and all I wanted was chocolate. Chocolate and a special bag of gummis. mmmmm...

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